“Hashtag activism” and the case of the kidnapped Nigerian girls

Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant Islamist group, released a video Monday purportedly of some of the more than 200 girls kidnapped last month from their school in northern Nigeria, Reuters reported.

The video’s release comes as international outrage over the kidnapping continues to grow, mostly through social media.

Over the weekend, David Cameron, the British prime minister, held up a sign on the BBC that read “#Bring Back Our Girls,” the hashtag rallying cry on the Internet. Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama posted a photo of herself holding a similar sign.

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has met with a mixed reception.

Some credit it for keeping the kidnapping in the news and putting pressure on the Nigerian government and the international community.

CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said that Nigeria was “100 percent saturated with social media” and that “this (campaign) is really getting to the people in Nigeria.”

But there are critics that this so-called “hashtag activism” is just a feel-good moment for the West. Huffington Post called the hashtag “the raised fist of punctuation,” and asked whether hashtag campaigns do anything more than spawn more hashtags.

MSNBC reported that Fox contributor George Will said on the network that the hashtag campaign was simply an exercise in self-esteem:

I do not know how adults stand there facing a camera and say, ‘Bring Back Our Girls.’ Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh-oh Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behavior?’ This is not intended to have any effect on the real world.

Nigerian writer Teju Cole scoffed at the international interest and excitement as too little too late:

Above: Kosovo president Atifete Jahjaga (front center left), lawmakers and human rights activists hold a sign reading #Bring Back Our Girls.” (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)


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